Submits channel will become a “valuable asset in terms of national defence and security”

The UPA government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday, saying it wanted to implement the Sethusamudram project through the original alignment, cutting across the Ram Sethu.

A Bench, headed by Justice H.L. Dattu, will hear the case on Tuesday.

The Centre said it did not accept the recommendations of the expert committee, headed by Dr. Pachauri, that it was unlikely that public interest would be served if the project was implemented as per Alignment No. 4 A (an alternative route suggested by the court against the original alignment No. 6 that will cut through Ram Sethu.)

It rejected Tamil Nadu’s stand that the project be scrapped as it “is of questionable economic value and not in public interest.”

Given that Rs. 766.82 crore had already been spent on the project, implementing it further would improve its economic viability, the Centre said. “The project has strategic, navigational and socio-economic benefits and judging the economic viability of the project merely by the internal rate of return — which reflects only the commercial viability — may not be appropriate.”

Faulting the Pachauri Committee’s recommendations, the Centre said: “Though the data did not support blocking of the project… and the evidence showed benefits from the project, the committee arbitrarily and contrary to its own studies has concluded that the project is not viable. The recommendation of the committee is not tenable and is not supported by scientific data and by environmental studies commissioned by the committee itself. If the measures suggested for mitigation and post-commencement are undertaken, the project can be implemented.”

On Tamil Nadu’s stand that the project was untenable, the Centre said the channel would become a valuable asset in terms of national defence and security, facilitating easier and quicker access between Indian coasts. Moreover, it would generate jobs and additional income through small ancillary industries.

“The Environment Appraisal Committee had examined the project and suggested various safeguards which were stipulated in the environmental clearance issued for the project. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the Environment Impact Assessment did not fully assess the adverse impact of the project,” the affidavit said.

The Centre contended that it would be wrong to state that the project had the potential of affecting the livelihood of fishermen because the expert committee, while commenting on the impact from land environment, indicated that the project would stimulate a lot of ancillary developments, leading to use of barren land for commercial activities.

On the demand of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and the Tamil Nadu government that the Ram Sethu be declared a national monument, the Centre said the committee of eminent persons had noted in 2007 that there was no need for a study by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Tamil Nadu had sought a directive to the Centre to accept the Pachauri Committee’s report; direct the Centre not to implement the project by adopting either Alignment No. 4 A or No. 6, considering the eco-fragility of the surrounding area and the Gulf of Mannar and also as the project is of questionable economic value and not in public interest; to direct the Centre to declare Ram Sethu a national monument; and to restrain the Centre from undertaking any activity that will adversely affect Ram Sethu.

Karunanidhi happy

Special Correspondent writes from Chennai:

DMK president M. Karunanidhi has welcomed the Centre’s stand. “It is a welcome move, and one hopes the Supreme Court will give a favourable verdict soon,” he said in a statement.

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